An Adventure Words Barely Touch

Posted on 30 September 2014

An admission: I was reluctant to write about my time in Siberia. My words aren’t good enough to encompass the experience. I’m more accustomed to internal drama, to melancholy; I have those words. But this project in its shimmering, impossibly stress free gauze—it is beyond me.

An admission: It is slipping away. Though glittering flecks of it all stubbornly remain latched on to my behaviors, gradually I shed them off. I can’t help it. That’s life. Ordinary days take over again; I have things to do; I should focus on the now, anyway. But I still reach behind. Ah, there’s the melancholy.

It didn’t exactly look promising, but I already knew it would be just fine. The electrichka train doors slammed shut, with half of us still attempting to stumble down the steep stairs onto the gravel embankment of the stop. Shouts! They let us off into the drizzle, soon to be rain.

But I knew it would be just fine. See, on the electrichka, our very dear, ever positive, sweet, wonderful translator Anya immediately rounded us up for some games. Take as many pieces of toilet paper as you’ll use today! Haha, you now must say that many facts about yourself! As we went round introducing ourselves, I was mostly filled with a blooming curiosity. Even the obligatory drunk didn’t bother me. “Anya! Anya!” Slava wanted to play, too. After the games were done, he treated us to an operatic tune, a capella. Lauren, in Russia for the first time, sat by him, shaking with laughter. Welcome to rural Russia, where the friendly drunks serenade you. It’s not an anomaly. It’s an acceptable fact of life.


Another Russian Suitor for Lauren

Another Russian guy providing Lauren with entertainment.


The rain methodically pattered down. We soldiered through the muddy path, winding our way around large puddle after another. Despite the chill I began to sweat under my raincoat — why are they so stuffy? — and my legs tired from carrying the extra weight of my backpack. But already the songs began pressing themselves out of our mouths and I found myself joining in, belting out a Russian song I didn’t at all know. Molotsi, molotsi.

We crossed a bog, squelching abundantly. Later we would solve the problem of this muddy crossing by building a trail over it. And then, after clambering around a rock face, clumsy with our packs—there was our camp. We dumped our belongings in the two yurts on site, spreading things out to dry, lighting fires in the stoves. And now, for more games! Under a slightly leaky shelter, the roof beating a rhythm of raindrops, we learned shaman chants, tangled ourselves up, and played this is what I like about you/this is what I hate about you, oh but now you have to kiss/bite those parts, surprise! All of this tumbled by in an interesting Russian-English mishmash. And somehow, these bizarre activities, among adults no less, were entirely natural and fun.


GBT Dinner Inside


It was raining too hard to set up our tents, let alone our campfire, so it was inside eating for just the beginning. All eighteen of us— five Americans, the rest Russians — crammed into the small kitchen, around the smaller table. Already quite close, we chowed down on what would be staples: soup, macaroni, bread, (too much) candy. And, in the darkening room, sang some more.

I didn’t quite know if would be just fine that night, though, entering the yurt. Which leaked. Nine of us crammed in and the fire blazed. I lay on top of my new, already precious sleeping bag, and realized that even if I protected it from the ceiling drips, it would get my sweat all over it anyway. Well.

Early the next day the wonders really began. Anxious to be out of the sweltering yurt, I woke early and went out with Elizabeth who was on duty to prepare food for the day. I dressed for rain, for I could still hear water outside the yurt, but peering through the door, I realized my mistake. The only precipitation in the air was mist; what I heard was the roaring, lovely river we were situated by.


Yurt Door at the Campsite


This day, our project duties truly began. We were able to set up our tents, which I had longed for very much over the course of the muggy night. And we began work: first, gathering firewood and hauling it back to camp. Natasha, our tough and great leader, cleared the way with her beloved chainsaw, creating the beginnings of a path we would soon build. And we, trailing behind, clambered through the squishy moss, gathering as many branches as our arms could bear and, muddying our raincoats, hugged them to our chests as we tramped back to our blossoming camp.

It was certainly going to be just fine! After obyed, late lunch, we girls started off some more goofiness. What does a horse say in Russian? Iiiii go-go! I kid you not. My torso ached more from laughing than from lugging branches around. After awhile, we switched to learning potentially more productive things, making Russian-English drawings for the parts of trees and types of flora and fauna around.

And then for our hike, since I suppose we were easing into our working days—normally, we would work both morning and afternoon. But it was good to see the sites we were supporting with our trail building, namely, the shapely cliffs of the Olkhinskoye Plateau. I lagged behind the others, eagerly taking photos of birch trees. There’s something about northern forests — the moss, the pines, and of course the birches— not too imposing but elegant enough, that’s very comforting.

We reached one of the cliffs, Idol, and scrambled around, taking photos of each other, all together. Then we headed for another rocky outcrop, where we were able to stare down a cliff over the sea of greenery below. Siberia! Our sense of adventure was piqued, for when we turned around and walked back by Idol, a brave handful of us clambered up a rock face (I needed help getting down; it wasn’t the easiest) and faced Idol from a new, dizzying height. Again, the green stretched out under us. This vast earth. Siberia.


Baby Tree and Idol


Others collected mushrooms while I only collected blisters, unperturbed, it was certainly going to be just fine. That night we had mushroom soup. Our instigator of silly activities, Anya, had enlisted Rachele and I to perform some songs, and perform we did. For two weeks, I belted out tunes without a care. By the way, I’m not a great singer.

To top it off, we got to use the banya that evening. It wasn’t until midnight, under the overwhelmingly starry Siberian sky, that I zipped myself into my sleeping bag. This was only the first full day on project coming to a close. There was more mud and joy yet to sink into.

An admission: Volunteering with Great Baikal Trail was, honestly, probably one of the better things I’ve done. By the end of the second day I had written in my journal, I love this. The following sentences in my journal: There are so many good people and the nature is wonderful and I just feel pretty carefree and not anxious. Like whatever is fine, and I’m thinking about now, not the future.

An admission: Now, I am thinking about the future. I am thinking about going back.

Don’t Be Daunted: On Hitchhiking

Posted on 25 September 2014

It all started when the bus didn’t stop. All through the 90 minute ride, I stared out the window at the unfamiliar landscape, prepared to signal my desire to disembark when we turned off the highway. Proud of myself for recognizing the spot based solely on Google Maps research, I stood up. But the bus driver ignored me, even after I asked him to please stop, and drove on. Way on. By the next stop, I was too far from my destination to walk.

I was determined to visit Lahemaa National Park, about an hour’s drive from the capital, Tallinn. I particularly wanted to visit Viru Bog, which looked beautiful from the photos I had scoured through online. The problem is Lahemaa National Park isn’t the most straightforward place to visit for fiercely independent budget travelers like me. Renting a car was too expensive. Joining a tour meant thwarting my aspirations to wander alone in the woods. There are self-guided bike tours, which, while probably enjoyable, were also out of my price range. After consulting the internet and a host in another town, I decided to attempt taking the bus, which was supposed to stop near the trailhead and should come by in the afternoon for the trip back to Tallinn. Clearly, no such luck.

But here’s the catch: one thing my travels have taught me is not to fret. Something will work out. Walking back in the direction I had come, I stuck out my thumb.

Read More…

Path into Viru Bog

I’m A Stranger, Which Makes Me Free

Posted on 15 September 2014

Two overnight flights in a row: over the Atlantic, over Russia. Eagerness overrode any exhaustion—at first—but then it all began to drag into a tunnel of grey, vibrating time when Siberia Airlines’ idea of a veggie wrap was served in the form of a blob of mayonnaise garnished with cole slaw, tucked away inside of a tortilla. And that was in fact, the most edible vegetarian airplane food from then on.

But no matter, shaking away hunger and, more pressingly, thirst, cloaked in a sheer veneer of tiredness, which I at times had to swat away from in front of my face but mostly ignored, we landed at the small Irkutsk airport and walked into the arms of friends—at this point, my friend’s friends. I blundered with my heavy backpack, which was soon to be shouldered not by me but by the man among us, as they do, and began drowning in the foreign sounds and sights that enveloped us as we emerged into the sunny morning.

Tree by Lake Baikal

But, I suppose, drowning isn’t it. I’m submerged, not always able to function normally, really just drifting along on the current, but there’s no panic, no flailing, no “look at me! Help! Get me out of this water!” I simply watch and attempt to listen as my sluggish, poor sleep-deprived brain scrambles through the detritus of four years past to unearth the Russian that lays buried. I flinch every time I mutter también instead of тоже. I mostly watch the others and try to force myself to understand what I don’t, through sheer force of concentration, which helps sometimes, but still. And sometimes I don’t even try but look around instead.

Following, following. Dropping off my laptop at the Great Baikal Trail office—I won’t be needing that for two weeks. Dropping our bags off at the hostel. And quickly, quickly, off to Listvyanka to see Lake Baikal. I’m finally here, I need to see it, and the plans generously form around what is best for me, the new one in town. Following my friends to the market—finally, edible food! Mushroom pies! Ice cream! (in the cold places, they very much love their ice cream and I stand behind this sentiment.)—following them to the marshrutka, the minibus, that will take us to Listvyanka, an hour away. And we’re speeding down the road, my back to the driver, some sort of oil leaking over the floor, mushroom pie crumbling into my lap but mostly my eager, parched mouth.

Birch trees fly by as we crest hills and descend over and over. I’m in Asia, I tell myself. I’m in Siberia. The mystery is here. I’m somewhere, to me, that is wholly new. And I just float along: no discomfort, no worry, just watching it all fly by.

Boat on Lake Baikal


Lake Baikal. Even those who have seen it before can’t help but widely grin. We can barely make out the shadowy mountains across the water. If you squint hard enough, they materialize. If you listen hard enough, you understand. If you spend your energy trying, instead of fighting, the new and real, you’ll serenely coast along and absorb it all into your consciousness, your flesh. We wandered on the stony shores, through the fish market, gathering food—fish for them, berries for us all, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, like bitter grapes. We sat on the shore, smiling, eyes narrowed against the sun, my skin rapidly reddening, why yes, I got a tan in Siberia.

Fish Market, Listvyanka

Let’s ride in a boat! Dima says. It’ll be fun! He says. I expected something calm, a placid glide over the clear water, but no, this is Russia and everything jarringly collides, it’s idiosyncratic, because suddenly we are bouncing over waves, jerking back and forth on a speedboat as it figure eights, spray everywhere, and we’re screaming and laughing in the borderlands of glee and fright. The sun beats down, the air shimmers, the water shines even more. I’m in Siberia! I’m on Lake Baikal! I laugh and let the boat toss me around, head back, face open, everything pouring in, for Lake Baikal is all-encompassing, it carries its own feeling.

To Guide Boats, Lake Baikal

Another idiosyncrasy of mine: at this point, I don’t care if I don’t understand everything. I don’t get bothered when I don’t comprehend a language as it floats around me. I don’t care if I don’t know what I’m doing, just caught up in the glide of my hosts, or rather new friends. I, ever in need of control at home, shaking, clenching, nails scraping my palms, my thighs—I need it, see, it’s my home, my place—let this pressure slip off, like a heavy black cloak onto an entry hall floor and I hold up my arms, shrug my shoulders, and confidently step into a place that is not mine, never mine, and I am free.

We’ll Tell All – About Sunrise And About Sunset

Posted on 10 September 2014

Flower, Pinecone, Mushroom, Siberia

I am sitting at home, a novelty indeed after five weeks which brought me from southeastern Siberia to Finland. It is now that I can sort through and edit my photos, regain some sleep reserves that I was lacking, revert to usual communications, and, so importantly, mentally process all that I have done.

A fair amount happened in my small corner of the internet while I was largely ignoring it, or, as was the case for two weeks while in Siberia, unable to access it. While I was in the taiga camping, trail building, and having an amazing time with Great Baikal Trail, I was Freshly Pressed. As a result, I have loads of new followers who, if I am to be presumptuous, may want to hear a bit more about the person behind this blog.

Coincidentally, while I was away, I was also kindly nominated by the sweet and funny collegelady17 for two blogging awards: the One Lovely Blog Award and the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Well, it’s nice to be considered lovely and inspiring – thank you! Here I am to accept these awards and follow and break the rules as I see fit. You can tell from a quick google that I edited the rules to be, in my opinion, a bit less pressuring.


The Rules

  1. Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
  2. List the rules and display the award.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs.

Seven Facts

  1. I have an excellent Gollum impression. This has been verified by many people, who I have proudly frightened.
  2. Speaking of Gollum – nerd alert! I love love love Tolkien and also Harry Potter. It would be embarrassing if I felt like being embarrassed, but honestly I’m just a bit proud.
  3. Despite that a high proportion of friends and family, and also my partner, are in various medical professions, I’m terribly squeamish. As in, reading about anatomy can make me feel disturbed. Nope, don’t like!
  4. I obsess over music, but do something quite interesting with it. When I get really hooked on a song, I add it to a special playlist. At the end of the year (or the semester, when I was still in school), I have a list of songs that I got into, in chronological order. I love going back and listening to those playlists. Most recent song of this type: ДДТ – Просвистела.
  5. I love love love sauna. Every time I do it, I love it more. And as far as Finnish things go, I also discovered last week that I enjoy “mushrooming,” as we began calling hunting for mushrooms in English.
  6. One of my biggest hates is street harassment. I rarely participate in internet fights, but when I do, it is often about this.
  7. I’m not a tropical beach person. Or a tropical person, really. Though I’ll happily travel basically anywhere, I much prefer temperate or cold climates. And I like cold beaches more than hot ones!
Curonian Spit Beach, Lithuania

This is me, happily taking a corny jumping photo on a cold beach (the Curonian Spit in Lithuania).

Recommended Blogs

Here’s where I’ll simply list some blogs that I especially enjoy reading and basically always check out when a new post shows up on my reader. Consider this a blogroll. I’m not going to pressure anyone to accept this award and do a post though, though (it’s a chain award after all, and maybe not appealing to everyone). So, bloggers I like, feel free to do with this as you want, but know I enjoy your blogs! And to the bloggers I know personally – I miss you!

And now I give up with the disclaimer that there are actually a lot of probably great blogs I found before I left on my trip – but I haven’t been able to keep up with them yet since I haven’t been online much! Without question I’ve overlooked some blogs I quite enjoy, but you know, next time.

So. I leave you with these facts while the person behind them attempts to readjust to daily life at home. And starts purging clothes and other belongs in order to be lighter. And begins the job hunt. And, of course, creates new posts about her recent and incredible Siberian, Baltic, and Finnish adventures for your eyes and mind.

(Small note: post title is from the Просвистела lyrics.)

It’s Not For An Audience

Posted on 2 September 2014

Viru Raba Panorama

When you’re galloping forward, it’s hard to stop. And when I say stop, I don’t mean pause and take in the world around you, because that’s precisely what you’ve been doing as you consume every sight, sound, smell, taste, nuance, history, and present you can, constantly. No, I mean stop and step away from the moment. I mean plug in. I mean stop living your story and momentarily halt to tell it to others, or even to yourself.

Perhaps I’m a post-travel blogger. What can I say right now other than that I have seen and learned so much already? I have met wonderful people. I have stayed in their homes and ridden in their cars. I have always found a place to sleep. I have spoken multiple languages. I have been surrounded by good people, and I have been utterly alone with the trees and the sundews and the little frogs and the blueberries and the boggy water.

Right now, I don’t feel like conveying much. I’m still moving. Once this trip is over in a week, once I have slowed down, once I have properly processed everything that is calmly clamoring in my brain – I’ll tell. But right now I’m living. I don’t need to proclaim this fact for others to hear. I state it to myself simply, quietly: I’m alive.

Lessons Learned From Camping In Siberia

Posted on 22 August 2014

Our little camp in southeastern Siberia truly began to feel like a home, like the place I should be. My sleeping bag was a great bed; I was untroubled by camping night after night for two weeks. I didn’t need an inside anymore. I was out in the world, and with a group of truly great people, at that. And if you watch the world, and listen to it, you can learn some things.

Here is an assortment of what camping in Siberia taught me.

1. Life can be busy – and not boring – sans technology
The camp had no internet, no cell phone reception, and even no electricity (unless a generator was turned on). And I was busy! I honestly found it hard to find the time to do activities such as write in my journal because between working, eating, socializing, cleaning, and sleeping, there was little left. Technology can be a time suck, and, at times, an unnecessary one. I was able to perfectly entertain myself with people, a forest, and the tasks at hand. Internet and the like can be great, but they can also pull us away from the people who are present, by us.

GBT Campfire

2. Man – and technology – is everywhere
We didn’t entirely escape technology though. These days, it is quite all-encompassing. The night sky over us was beautiful. One night, some of us pulled our sleeping bags over to a rock on the river to watch the stars for a while, undisturbed by artificial lights. I saw six shooting stars. And I saw for the first time, quite noticeably, sputniki, or satellites. They moved slowly across the sky, one there, one there, circling us from above. It was remarkable to think that our presence stretches so far.

Siberian Pinecones

3. Manual forest labor has its benefits
We slogged through a bog, we scraped bark off dead trees, and we tried and tried and finally succeeded to fell these dead trees before debarking them. Mosquitos larger than I have ever seen swarmed around, but even worse were the vicious little ants that would reach up to attack if your hand merely swept high above them. Sound fun? Maybe fun isn’t exactly the right word, but it wasn’t unfun either.

Beyond the physical benefits of this work/exercise, there are some social and environmental benefits as well. Of course, this type of work – selectively felling trees, often dead, the only fossil fuel powered tool a chainsaw – has a much smaller environmental footprint than bulldozing a trail and using mass-produced timber to build pathways would. But this work also makes you understand the power of the forest, and perhaps, therefore, respect it more. It took us, a team of eighteen, three days to fell an already dead tree. It took additional days to shred off the bark. And unearthing a tree stump is no easy task. One dead tree part can put up a battle against five people. Maybe we should give trees more of their due respect.

GBT Trail Through the Bog

4. Some people are really great
So, honestly, I can feel pretty down about people. I’m not one who looks on the brighter side when it comes to humanity. But the people I was with in the camp, for the very most part, were great. They were incredibly nice, they were funny, they were generous, they were caring. We could be increasingly goofy (whether this was caused by the isolation or the overconsumption of sweets, I don’t know) and it was all fine, everything goes, you’re taken in with a smile. I know these people are out there now, for sure.

Anya & Liza

5. Yourself is the one to be
And I mean that down to every last bit. You are still you without make-up and covered in specks of bog mud. Don’t worry so much about what you look like. Do whatever is comfortable at the time based on your own feelings, not others’. Be as goofy or as serious as you wish. Drop the self-consciousness because it is a barrier to you, that’s all. The right people won’t leave your side.

On Top of Vityaz

Truly, I’m still absorbing this all. But I can say this for sure: I learned a lot. I was filled with wonder. I want to do it again.

Ogol, Olkhinskoye Plateau

Look At It Sideways: Coping With Pre-Departure Anxiety

Posted on 7 August 2014

Lifting Weights at the Train Graveyard
“How excited are you for your trip?” my boyfriend asked.
“Moderately,” I said, “I still have to pack.”

Moderately. I’m about to embark on a should-be amazing trip to Lake Baikal, the Baltic countries, and my dear Finland. Why wouldn’t I be excited? Alas, although I’m an experienced traveller, the pre-departure anxieties still cling tightly.

I’m an incredibly anxious person. Even going to the grocery store down the street stresses me out, and I waste away in anticipation of the hour when I’ll need to force myself to leave. And driving? Please, please, don’t suggest that I drive somewhere new, or to a place with scarce parking. There’s a good chance I’ll be teary by the end of the struggle—if I’ve even been forced into the car.

How is it that I’m able to travel, to throw my nervous self into random places with languages I do not know, unsure of exactly where I’ll sleep the next night? Travel has taught me a lot about living with anxiety, and indeed, has strengthened me in my daily life. I know I need to keep at it.

By the process of hurling myself into the unknown again and again, I have developed an intimate knowledge of pre-departure anxiety and how to live with it.

Though anxiety can’t easily be banished and left to fade in the dark corners of your brain (it grows there, you see), it’s possible to prevent it from running roughshod all over your mind and ruining the bright anticipation of your travels during a period of time that often lasts longer than the trip itself. Here are some tips from an anxious girl.

Read the full article here.

And So -

Posted on 3 August 2014

Ben's Graduation

It ends and begins. This morning I spent some hours packing. This afternoon, my boyfriend graduated with his Master of Science in Nursing. Tomorrow morning I’m jumping on a plane. These next couple of months will be full of travels, adventures, and changes, of the international, domestic, and personal sorts.

I won’t have internet access for a bit while I am camping in the wilds near Lake Baikal, but never fear – I’ll update you, dear readers, as I can in the coming months. Stay tuned for exciting, shifting times to come.

Next stop, Siberia.

Everything Converges

Posted on 19 July 2014

Oh, Bolivia. This is a place where everything converges—mountains, water, desert, cities, the sky, diversity, poverty, jungles, witches, surreal beauty, friendships. Sadly, Bolivia is often overlooked in favor of neighboring Peru, which is also incredible but certainly not a substitute for the two countries truly have different offerings.

Bolivia is a country of extremes. The numbers seem to hold it back: it is the poorest country in South America, and it is landlocked. However, Bolivia also has the largest indigenous population in South America and is incredibly diverse—in terms of both its peoples and its landscapes. In other words, Bolivia has struggled, but it is truly a wonder.

Copacabana, Bolivia

Copacabana, from the mirador (overlook).

For travelers, there are some significant benefits to visiting Bolivia. The country is very cheap. It is possible to see an awful lot in a short amount of time (though you will always want more time). There is enough tourism infrastructure to be useful when needed, but it is also not as overwhelming as in other countries. If you’re willing to rough it just a bit, you’ll see some of the most remarkable sights, and meet some great people. And you’ll think about South America’s history. All too often we overlook the brutal history of conquest in the Americas, we see Machu Picchu and other Incan ruins as crumbling stones to take photos of rather than the haunting ghosts that they are. But in Bolivia, the ghosts are alive and staring you in the face, smiling, working, guiding you, kindly making you custom bracelets unasked.

Before I met the people-who-aren’t-ghosts, I treaded on the land-that-still-is. Our first stop in Bolivia was Copacabana and from there, Isla del Sol. My friend Rachel and I endured an overnight bus from Cusco to Copacabana during which we struggled through a border crossing as the only two U.S. citizens on the bus. But the cumbersome entrance into the country was worth it. We knew this as we laboriously scaled uneven stairs with the crowds of Bolivians and tourists to the overlook the town and Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. This is truly a special place.

On Isla del Sol
Incan Farming Terraces, Isla del Sol

Incan farming terraces on Isla del Sol.

We then took a boat over the lake to Isla del Sol, Island of the Sun, the supposed birthplace of the Incan sun god. The island is scattered with ruins, the land is still terraced in true Incan farming style, and there are no motor vehicles. It is a curious blend of modernity and history, and a remarkable place to visit—that is, once you conquer the stairs. We landed at Yumani, one of a couple towns on the island. To get from the dock to the town, you must ascend a long set of stairs cut in the face of the island, which is not the easiest at altitude. But as with so many other places, the view from the top makes you forget your troubles in getting there.

Lacking endless time, Rachel and I wandered around the island near Yumani, over the hills and their terraces, through town, past various comical animals, up a hill to some ruins. From Isla del Sol, you can gaze over the lake and realize just what Bolivia holds. Nearby is Isla de la Luna, Island of the Moon, home to the Incan Temple of the Virgins. Behind the lake stretches on, but through the clouds you can glimpse the mountains that tower over all from afar.

Isla de la Luna

Isla de la Luna.

Silly Donkey, Isla del SolSunset over Isla del Sol

And in special places, surrounded by items that have been of significance for thousands of years, Rachel and I pondered what was special in our own lives. We talked about why we traveled, about judgment from others, about our relationships which were precariously but successfully founded on long-distance. Our lives pale in comparison to everything, but they’re still ours to share and to build bonds between. When traveling, there is somewhat of a push to accelerate the process with newfound friends that you know you will not be with for long. We walked, we found dinner, and we watched the sunset and an incoming storm from the porch of our hostel.

Sheep on Isla del Sol
Yumani, Isla del Sol


In the beginning in Bolivia, we walked beneath the close and enormous cloud-ridden sky, and everything—land, history, and our own lives—came together. Bolivia is a place where everything is important, everything is examined, everything touches. The sky touches the water, our outsider lives brush through living history, and it all grabs on to each other.

One day on the island is not enough time. Two weeks in the country is not enough time. But it is something. And for me, there’s still a few years left on my visa. If you’re thinking about South America, consider Bolivia. It holds many of the extremes of the earth, and if you want to learn from it all, you easily can.

Llama, Isla del SolStorm on Lake Titicaca

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